Insight: Outlook for the poor in 2013: A conspicuous omission

HS Dillon, Jakarta |Jakarta Post – Insight | Fri, January 04 2013, 11:42 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 2
As is want toward the beginning of a new year, pundits and clairvoyants alike air their predictions for the next 12 months.  Very few try to own up to what they had predicted a year earlier, or targeted, in the case of multilateral, governmental and business entities. This year was no exception, although the apocalypse misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar overshadowed the astrologers.However, try as I may, from among all the promises of wine and roses splashing across our media, I failed to extract any prediction for our poor brethren. Even this daily did not lower its sights to bear upon homegrown poverty in its impressive “OUTLOOK 2013”. It too appears to have been swept along by the heady tide of a country registering a strong growth rate amid a global slowdown. Like the natives of yore, adulation from foreign advocates of free markets and corporate windfalls has blinded most of the captains of industry, senior-most officials and pundits to the fine print drawing attention to the generation of meaningful employment and dampening the widening inequity.

What is the real state of play? Our growth rates have been impressive indeed; however, the very drivers of growth — globalization, technological progress and pro-market reform — are also driving a wedge between the rich and the poor. If we were to include the near-poor, and the vulnerable, almost half of our brethren are in a precarious position and run the risk of being left even further behind. Regional disparities is still alarming, as up to 70 percent of regional budgets goes toward the salaries of the mushrooming bureaucracy.

What does this omission really imply, and why should we lose any sleep over it? It would be difficult to refute a cynic claiming that our elite are afflicted by a deadly malady: cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, they carry Indonesian passports, yet at the same time they seem to be completely disconnected from the plight of their fellow countrymen. In other words, they have become strangers to their own people. Aside from driving Lamborghinis and vacationing in plush resorts all over the globe, what do these rich and powerful have in common? Blaming President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for all the country’s ills.

Who are these people pointing the finger at the President? If last year’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) crop were to serve as a guide, they comprise a typical cross-section of contemporary Indonesia’s elite — arrogant office-bearers, aspiring politicos, glamorous socialites, crooked law-enforcers, judiciary on-the-take and rapacious businesspeople. They are all poseurs, donning the garb of piety, integrity, and charity. These are the leaders stealing from the poor, parasites who left unchecked could ultimately kill the host. This is what the late professor Satjipto Rahardjo had warned us years ago: Giving free-reign to such a heartless elite would be akin to placing the Republic in suicide mode.

What is the crime they are accusing the President of? Lack of political will to side with the poor? One should bear in mind that the President announced his own “growth with equity” paradigm early in the game, and elaborated with a triple-track (now a quarto-track) strategy: Pro-growth, pro-job, pro-poor and pro-environment. He went even further by stipulating the four clusters designed to simultaneously attack both the symptoms and the causes of poverty.

The Vice President has taken the onerous task of coordination into his own hands, and has been battling against all odds to affect complementarity among the clusters and accelerate the rate of poverty alleviation. He has been trying hard to help realize the President’s vision of a transformed Republic, delivering for all.

The record shows that this has not been idle talk: under President Yudhoyono, budget allocations for poverty alleviation programs have continued to increase. When he assumed office, the poverty alleviation budget was Rp 28 trillion, last year it had increased more than threefold to Rp 99.2 trillion. The poverty headcount, as formulated by the Central Statistics Agency, in 2004 stood at 36.1 million or 16.6 percent, in 2012 it had declined to 11.96 percent, equal to 29.13 million. In plain English, around 7 million people have managed to climb out of poverty over an eight-year period, many more than Singapore’s entire population.

As his special envoy, I have called upon very many highest-ranking officials in the capital and the regions. Most have received me courteously, some with great sincerity. The majority, however, feel that with the host of anti-poverty programs, we were on the right-track, and failed to understand why I was exhorting them to bring academia, religious leaders, captains of industry, and CSOs on board to engage in “equal discourse” with the poor in an attempt to better tailor their programs to the particular needs of the community. No, my dear brothers, all is not going well. Even prior to the global slowdown, rate of poverty decline had registered signs of slowing down, defying higher budget allocations. Thus, a harsh critic could not be blamed for concluding that most of those who profess to be supporting the President, are still believers in trickle-down economics at heart, and are merely going through the motions, while enjoying the perks of office. Their indifference is placing President Yudhoyono’s legacy of bequeathing a democratic, prosperous and egalitarian Indonesia at great risk.

What is the outlook for the poor, you might ask? One thing is certain: If the current complacency of the elite is not replaced by a renewed sense of urgency, the lot of our poor will not improve much this year. Rather than project slowing rates of poverty decline, let me instead enumerate some wishes; nay, some prayers.

I pray the new consciousness envisaged by the Mayans descends upon our elite, so that they realize that we can only be as strong as the weakest of our people. Such that religious leaders would use their powerful scriptures to inspire the poor to work even harder to climb out of poverty, and to plan their families with great caution, lest they send their newborn into life-long prisons of poverty. Admonish the rich to stretch out a helping hand to help steady the poor during their ascent out of poverty.

A consciousness that would allow our highest office-bearers to serve as stewards, so that all, including future generations, are provided an equal opportunity in harvesting the bountiful wealth our country possesses. I pray that the new consciousness once again makes us realize that we are all partners in crafting an egalitarian and civilized humanity. Amen.

The writer is the presidential special envoy for poverty alleviation.

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